Ageless, By Design

Horror/An Institute/A Newspaper Clipping

12 Points (4th in group)

Ageless, By Design

A breakthrough in anti-aging technology means major success is right around the corner, but I don’t really want to share. 


You coming in today?

It’s early for a Sunday—just after seven—and my phone vibrates right as I punch in Hoffman’s code to summon the lab-access elevator. I pocket the phone without responding.

Eat shit, Hoffman.

I stare at my reflection in the polished wall of the elevator. It’s as it always is, morose—like I’m here on a rainy Sunday to work instead of sabotage and steal years of research. Sure, I’m violating the terms of my contract with the Institute Against Aging. And the law. And maybe my own morals. 

But it’s mine. I’m the pioneer. And Hoffman’s going to take the credit.

Not if I can help it.

The elevator settles with a soft hiccup and I enter the dim research room. As expected, the handful of workstations are dark with blank monitors, empty trash baskets, and neatly stacked file folders. But beyond, in the “Cube”, as everyone calls it, LEDs blast light through thick glass. 

That’s odd.


The thick gray carpet swallows my voice, keeping it close.

Get in. Get out, I remind myself. 

I quickly boot Hoffman’s computer and insert the thumb-drive that will crash the security programming and tangle the network into such a mess nothing will work for days. All camera footage will be lost as of clock-out Friday.


Bright green code is zipping across the screen when I sense movement behind me. My heart gallops in my chest as I stare hard at the familiar surroundings, scanning deep into a jungle of wires and hoses, stainless steel equipment and supply closets. I can feel a subtle lift in the air. 

Probably the vents. 

My gaze lands on the newspaper clipping Hoffman pinned to his corkboard a few days ago: ‘Duo Desconstructs Agelessness.’ The article described Rodrigo Hoffman as a modern miracle-worker, everyone’s favorite brother, and genuinely swell guy. Someone you’d want to get a beer with. And he’s going to help you live to a 150, the article cheerily states.

I’m only mentioned. Todd Carver, Rodrigo Hoffman’s “right-hand man,” stalwart scientist and long-term IAA employee.  The implication being that Rodrigo is going to save me, too.

Not if I can help it.

Remembering the triumph in Hoffman’s voice when he said, “Todd, my man, we did it. We’re gonna change the world,” makes my blood boil anew. I’ve been in this dungeon for more than twenty years, at the helm for failure after failure. And now, after only a few short years riding my coattails, horse-grin-Hoffman is going to swoop in and gobble up all my fame. And my glory.

No, he’s not.

Puke-ass kid. Always breaking safety protocol. Always strolling in late. No one complains because he’s buttering everyone up with flattery and fist-bumps, even the janitorial staff. He waltzes around like he’s single handedly saving the IAA. 

It’s so easy for him. 

I yank the clipping and stuff it in my breast pocket. I’ll burn it later.

Another movement snags the corner of my eye. But there’s nothing when I turn.  

I should just leave. It doesn’t matter if a machine has been left on, in less than an hour the network infrastructure will collapse, all systems in the building will experience failure, right along with the alarms. Anything running will terminate. I just need to grab the back-up discs and bounce. I have a plane to catch.

But something stops me. I’m drawn to the bright room.

I use Hoffman’s code and slide the Cube’s heavy door open. I can faintly hear the hum of the cooler and the ticking of the school-house clock over the door. The astringent air scrapes my throat as I breathe in. Everything chrome sparkles, all the equipment is covered and buttoned up—no one expected back until January sixth. 

Plenty of time to disappear.

“Hello?” I call, again. “Hoffman?”

I wiggle the mouse on the Cube terminal. A quick diagnostic should tell me if any equipment is producing. The screen blooms to life, open to the Lab-Log. The last entry should be mine from Friday, detailing the three week holiday closure protocol, but it’s not.

There’s an entry from Hoffman.

“Expected Carver today to review and finalize pre-print prior to break, but no-show. Called and texted with no response.”

But… that’s not right.

I squint at the machine. I’ll need my own code to overwrite this horseshit. I reach for my phone, but my pockets are empty. 


I left it on Hoffman’s desk. I look up to confirm.

Rodrigo Hoffman stands behind the closed Cube door. He wears the loud yellow Tychem coveralls and black neoprene gloves we always work in. 

We stare at each other.

My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I taste rust. The words are slow and tacky as I form them. “Rodrigo, let me out.”

Hoffman’s blue eyes are jagged with hatred. His unusually unsmiling mouth hides his equine teeth; his thick brows knit together over his nose. Hoffman—for the first time—looks like the intellectual powerhouse he is, and not the silly, laid-back, surfer-scientist he projects.

My guts squirm. 

He wouldn’t. He can’t.

The Cube is a box designed for safety. Keep the environment out, keep experiments in. A person could be trapped in here, a genuine Schrödinger’s cat, alive and unalive until staff return nearly a month from today.

That person is me.

I’m at the door before I realize I’ve moved. The safety switch to unseal the Cube air-lock barrier is within reach. Cool relief floods my hands as I press it, just as darkness engulfs me.

I press it again. And again.


My crash-code is doing its job. No cameras—sure—but also, no lights, no power, no heat, no ventilation… and most importantly—no water.

Outside the Cube, the emergency lighting clacks on, illuminating Hoffman in a sickly pale yellow.

“I’ll be very sorry to hear about your… accident… in the lab.” His whisper is a thousand miles away.

He sets my phone down on the desk and waves. 

“Good-bye, Carver.”


WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2096}  Solid tale with a surprise twist as the tables are turned and the saboteur becomes the victim.

The story is tense as Carver sets up the system to crash and keeps sensing something is behind him. This tension continues to rise until it crests when Hoffman appears outside, locking Carver in. It’s going to be a long, slow death by dehydration. It’s like Montresor  and Fortunato in Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillaso’ where Montresor walls his old friend up in the cellar.

Nice job!   {1651}  You do an excellent job of setting up the conflict in the story and giving the protagonist a clear goal with a strong motive. You also did a masterful job of planting context and timing it right so that Carver’s plan blows up in face at the precise moment he needs it to fail.  {1778}  Really strong use of curiosity as a means to ones downfall. It’s often used in horror, and I believe harkens back to the Yellow Jacket experiment used on cattle. I love the simplicity and preparedness of our protagonist Todd, and he being the cause of his own downfall. I love when the bad guy wins.   

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {2096}  The opening line is a bit confusing. If it’s a text message from Hoffman, let us know by showing Carver looking at his phone, or a buzzing/noise that a message arrived, startling him.

Carver refers to Hoffman as a “puke-ass kid”, the term is “punk-ass”.

How did Hoffman know Carver was going to be there and sabotaging the lab? He even has a message in the log, so this had to be planned.

It is a bit contrived that Carver left his phone behind with the perfect proof of Hoffman’s alibi in the last text message.

These are minor points. Great story!   {1651}  I couldn’t figure out from the story clues 1) how Hoffman anticipated Carver’s plan (what tipped Hoffman off that Carver would be so resentful he’d destroy the experiment?) and 2) what day Hoffman knew that Carver was going to execute the plan. I’d make that context clearer in the story. For example, maybe it’s the last day of work and everyone’s left for break, but Carver’s stayed behind to “wrap some things up.” That could also tip off Hoffman that Carver’s going to do something sinister.  {1778}  Would love a little more insight into Todd. We see he doesn’t care for Hoffman, and we know he’s the brains behind the operation, but I’d like a deeper dive into him personally. What does he have to lose and what’s waiting for him on the outside if he makes it out. I want to care more about him so his death hit me harder.

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